Tag Archives: Kathmandu

Bucket-Bathing, Clothes and Riots

(continuation of My First Night In Nepal)

The next morning I woke up to P’s dad sitting on the far side of the bedroom using the only computer in the house. P bought it for the family when he was home two years previous. It was 6:30am. He smiled and said good morning and asked how I slept.

A few minutes later J Phupu (who lived on the first floor of the house) sent P’s little cousin upstairs to give me a mug of milky chai and a plate of biscuits. I assumed this was my breakfast so I happily ate everything, while listening to a bell tinkle somewhere upstairs. It was the sound of P’s mom sitting at the family temple, worshiping the gods for the day.

P’s dad said I was welcome to take a quick bath, and afterwards we could sit up on the roof (where the family spends most of the day in the sunshine). I grabbed the clothes I was planning to wear, an ankle length cotton skirt with woolen stockings, a black cotton long-sleeved shirt and a woolen sweater and I scooted to the bathroom. After a semester in India, I felt like a pro at “bucket-bathing” and I quickly filled the bucket with warm tap water and dropped mug-fulls over my head. A few years ago P’s family installed a solar water heater on the roof so they could get warm water through the faucet, but before that P’s mother had to heat water on the stove for warm winter baths.

I cleaned up, dressed, and joined P’s dad on the roof. Mamu had finished worshiping and had a round of more milky chai ready. P’s aunt had departed for work at the university, but everyone else was sitting in white plastic chairs on the flat cement roof. Even though it was winter, and quite cold in the evening, the sunshine felt almost fall like, and I was comfortable in my sweater.

I didn’t really know what was on the agenda for my visit other then meeting the family and perhaps sightseeing around the city a little bit. Apparently P’s dad had made a plan. I was going to be with the family for 4 days. One had already past, so he had scheduled several tourist attractions for the next three, but first there was a little snag.

“We have to wait until afternoon to go to the city. Is that okay?” he said. I didn’t really think much of it. I figured he had other plans for the morning.

“The university students are rioting, so it isn’t safe to go out.” He continued nonchalantly, in between sips of tea.

I almost choked on the gulp I just swallowed, “Rioting?”

“Yes, the day you came someone from the army was found drunk in the city, and he shot a few people. The students are protesting this. It is better to wait until after lunch to go out in the city. No problem.” No problem? If something like that happened in the US it would be on the headline of every newspaper in the country. Then I remembered stories that P had told me of sitting on the roof growing up and watching the horizon for rising smoke to see where protesters were burning tires in the city. You avoided that part of town, but it didn’t stop them from going on with their lives.

Mamu called me inside and gave me more breakfast items—boiled eggs, slices of yak cheese, more biscuits, more tea. I was already full, but slowly ate the rest. This started a routine of getting two rounds of breakfast and other snacks throughout the day. J Phupu would send me food before she left for work and when she came home, P’s mom would give me more after her morning puja, and later in the evening, as if they were both competing to feed me.

I played with P’s little cousin for a while, and talked with P’s dad and grandfather some more. Right before lunch a family friend came over, a neighborhood chum of P’s cousin studying in the US. I was told that she was hoping to travel to the US for college and that she had her visa interview coming up soon. The family wanted me to practice speaking English with her and give her tips on how to have a good visa interview (which at the time, I had no idea, eye contact?). She spent the next three days traveling around with us.

Next… Lunch time, so soon, and still full from my double breakfast. More food. Rice, daal, different vegetable curries. Spoon (sigh, I eat slow! I’m sorry!) I was starting to feel round and stuffed.

After lunch P’s dad said to me, “You can go change now into your outside clothes.” I didn’t really know what he meant. I got dressed in the morning, I was ready. “No, your outside clothes.Something nice, pants or a pair of jeans.” Uh oh.

Like I said in K-k-k-k-k-k-k-Kathmandu, I put a lot of thought into the clothes I brought. Stuff that wasn’t too South Asian, but also stuff I thought looked dressier—long colorful skirts, a shorter kurta top or two, a sweater. The only pair of pants I brought with me were grey yoga pants. I originally brought them to India to wear as pajamas, but found they looked nice under kurta tops (which are generally longer than shirts, and cover your bum) since the bottoms of the pants were loose, and they fit comfortably around my waist with elastic (as opposed to the salwaar suit pants that were quite large around the waist and had a big necessary draw string). The yoga pants were never meant to be worn on their own, because I knew the type of fabric and their tightness around my backend wasn’t really culturally appropriate.

“Um, I don’t really have pants.” I said.

“Sure you do, it’s okay, go get ready. I’ll meet you downstairs.” He said.

So I went to my room and put on the pants. For good measure I took out a shawl and wrapped it around me in such a way that it draped over my back and covered my behind. I was a bit mortified, because I knew this could make a bad impression. I don’t even wear tight pants in the US, but now I was a bit cornered from lack of options. Not to mention the only pair of shoes I had were a touristy-looking pair of camel leather open clog shoes I bought in Jaipur since I only brought sandals from the US. I figured that now that it was winter and colder, I had to switch to sturdier shoes, although in India I wouldn’t have cared too much… socks and sandals, whatever, it kept my feet warm. But P’s dad was wearing polished black leather dress shoes. Oh dear.

See, everyone in the house had very distinctive “inside clothes” and “outside clothes.” P’s dad wore flannel shirts, and hand-me-down cargo pants from P at home, his mom and aunt wore long kurta tops that looked like house dresses or older salwaar suits, etc. But when they went out, it was like a transformation, P’s dad and grandfather dressed up in suit, tie, and overcoat, and his aunt put on a nice “office” sari. In comparison I looked like a weather-beaten tourist just dragged off the overnight bus.

P’s dad didn’t say much when I came down, but I could feel my clothes weren’t what he expected. But it was all I had with me.

Kakabua, P’s dad, P’s little cousin, the family friend and I loaded into a taxi and headed out across town. As we drove, we passed one street littered with many broken bits of brick and rock. P’s dad turned around from the front seat to explain, “These are the bricks from this morning during the riot. The students take them and-“ he mimed throwing a brick, “Throw them at the police.”

Recent Stories of Nepal in the News

I came across a few articles on the BBC this morning about Nepal so I thought I would share the links. Then I thought I’d pull together a few other links I’ve been thinking about lately for good measure.

The first article was about a reprise in a call for “Gorkhaland” in the Darjeeling area of West Bengal. There are many Nepali speakers and ethnic Nepalis who live in this region of north-east India, including P’s grandfather’s family who hail from Kalingpong. When P’s father was young P’s grandfather sent him to live with his wife’s parents in Kathmandu. Eventually his grandfather and the rest of the family moved to the KTM valley as well, but when P was young the relatives still living in Kalingpong wanted P to come and live with them and attend primary school in their “ancestral home.” This was in the early 80s when the original “Gorkhaland” separatists were involved in skirmishes, and it was eventually deemed too risky to send P, and he spent the next 15 years of his life living in Kathmandu.

I guess recently a new state was created in southern India and this has rekindled interest in fighting to create the state of “Gorkhaland.” The  article talks about the situation in more detail: “India new ‘Gorkha’ state talks to continue.”

The second article has more details about the Maoists in Nepal. I was on a roll for a little while talking about Nepali history, and I’ll get back to that at some point, but where I was leading to was a discussion of the “People’s War” and the Maoist insurgency. Fighting was put on hold during the past few years as the Maoists and the government tried to reach a peace agreement. Among other things this led to the removal of the king and the Nepali monarchy in general, and electing Maoist officials into the national government. However various events have led to a disintegration of the fledgling peace, and lately large demonstrations and strikes have occurred. You can read more about this at: “Growing fragility of Nepal’s peace process.”

This piece I’ve been sitting on for a while waiting for a time to mention it. The New York Times runs a multimedia series called “One in 8 Million” which feature stories about various (and diverse) people living in the 5 boroughs of New York City. A while back they had a feature on a man named Tika Chapagai, a recent immigrant from Bhutan (the country known for measuring its “Gross National Happiness”) by way of Nepal. This topic probably warrants its own post some time, but I just wanted to mention briefly that one of the newest refugee populations currently resettling in the US are Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees, many of whom have spent many years in refugee camps in eastern Nepal. I don’t really know all the back story to this refugee situation, but according to Human Rights Watch, Bhutan stripped the minority ethnic Nepalis of their citizenship and forced about 100,000 into exile in the early 1990s, allegedly in an attempt to ensure a homogeneous culture. I have several friends that are employed as translators for the Bhutanese that have been resettled in our city. I believe one of my readers also works with this population, so perhaps he can chime in, and I’ll look into more information to write a proper post sometime soon.

Another article that has recently featured in the New York Times was about two Nepali taxi drivers in New York City who shared the driving duties for a cab. One drove the night shift, the other the day shift. One day the night shift driver tried to kill the day shift driver with a meat cleaver, and after the attack jumped to his death from one of the city bridges. The article unravels the events that led up to the attack. P and I have a friend who works as a taxi cab driver in New York, and on a visit to the city a year ago we got an inside view of what the job entails. The article is both interesting and sad.

Last but not least I wanted to link to another article which was kind of interesting and bizarre. It was a Time Magazine article called “Somali Refugees in Nepal: Stuck in the Waiting Room” and it was about a community of Somalis who were trying to get smuggled to Europe but wound up stranded in Kathmandu.

Happy Reading!